While researching seminaries and graduate programs, Missy Trull came across Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry (STM). She was drawn in by the school’s sense of hope, unity, empowerment, and commitment to justice; she felt like it was exactly what she needed and wanted. As Missy discerned how she could participate in God’s healing work in the world, she imagined herself as a chaplain and thus chose to pursue the Master of Divinity (MDiv) program.
Now that Missy is well into her journey in the MDiv program, she is grateful for the way that the School of Theology and Ministry provides integrated training as she pursues a career as a chaplain. The MDiv with Chaplaincy specialization degree houses multiple counseling courses, allowing Missy to receive the theological and ministerial training she needs to understand the relational dynamics she has and will encounter in chaplaincy work. As part of her contextual education, Missy worked as an intern at Recovery Café, a center that utilizes the power of a safe and loving community to empower people recovering from addiction. This experience helped Missy to apply the listening and “being with” practices learned in courses, such as Pastoral Care Skills, with individuals and families processing grief, loss, trauma, healing, and hope.
Missy’s dream is to become a hospital chaplain at a children’s hospital, and she feels like she is being well-prepared for this work. She appreciates the balance of academic and experiential preparation she receives in the MDiv program. The academic work grounds and positions her to become increasingly aware of her theology as she works with patients. Moreover, all of the concepts she has learned in class have become a part of who she is and how she moves in the world.
For Missy, the program offers not only academic rigor, but what she calls “heart-rigor.” After two years in the program, she reflects: “I know myself—my story, what I bring into a room, my prejudices, my weaknesses, my fears, my love—I know myself in a profound way now, and I think we can only really function authentically in the world when we really know and listen to ourselves.”
There have been many meaningful moments in Missy’s journey that are transforming her into the chaplain and person she strives to be. Support and encouragement from colleagues help her continue to grow and thrive in this work. She has learned how to honor her own life in her theological work without abandoning ideas that may oppress or offend. Missy says: “My professor taught me the empowerment of “staying the in the room” with the discomfort in order to create, build, and see something new.” She adds, “The MDiv is a program of transformation-a program of moment after moment of meaningful lesson, challenge, and change.”
After earning his undergraduate degree in philosophy and theology, Justin Almeida went on to work in television and non-profit management industries, and served in the Peace Corps in Romania. In his search for a seminary to attend, the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) offered a mix of rigorous academics and deep formation with an “in the world” approach to theology in praxis. For Justin, pursuing the Master of Divinity degree enabled him to complete his ministry education within his Unitarian Universal denomination.
Formation through academic rigor and ministerial praxis have shaped and enlivened Justin’s journey at the School of Theology and Ministry. In the classroom, Justin recognizes that each class comes with an “ah-ha!” moment that challenges him to further integrate and embody the theology, care, and justice he pursues. One such meaningful classroom experience for him came from Dr. Erica Martin’s course on Hebrew Scriptures. In class, the term “preach against the text” challenged him to consider and deeply engage possible disagreements he may have with parts of scripture.
He recounts, “Dr. Martin allowed safe space for struggle with the Hebrew Scriptures; to wrestle with the dynamic tension between the past and present, tradition and the moment, historicity and revelation. This radically changed my orientation to and interaction with sacred texts. It has aided my chaplaincy with youth who are incarcerated, as well as in my biblical teaching with my congregation, making the spiritual writings of humanity much more relatable to my and others’ human experience.”
For his contextual education internship, Justin worked at the King County Juvenile Detention Center through the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition, a program within the Church Council of Greater Seattle. He was trained as a youth chaplain to work with youth experiencing incarceration and to help with weekly worship services.
Justin highlights the pastoral care skills course and the ministerial theological integration course as core experiences that provided him with a foundation for his work with incarcerated youth. These courses helped him to encounter the youth with a spirit of acceptance and compassion.
He says, “I was able to grow in my spirituality and capacity of pastoral care, while also challenged to meet the complicated life experiences of these youth with an ethic of agape and healing. I couldn’t have done the work without the skills learned in my STM classes! Their unique focus on social ministry and practical theological application is a benefit to anyone who is looking to be on the front lines of pastoral care and 21st century religion.”
Amity Ludders traversed many miles before she landed at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. As a King County metro public coach operator, Amity loves driving a bus because she gets the privilege of welcoming so many individuals aboard every day. She often finds herself lending an ear to someone who may have something going on in their life that they need to share. She says, “At a certain point, I realized that I could definitely use an increased skill set to listen more effectively to stories that can contain a significant amount of trauma.” That is where the Master of Divinity with Chaplaincy track came in. Amity wanted a program that felt relevant to her lived experiences, and was delighted to find that the School of Theology and Ministry offered an ecumenical way of actively engaging the interplay between school and city, past and present, theory and practice.
With the hope to become a chaplain one day, Amity appreciates the volume of material covered through the Master of Divinity program. She says: “My MDiv studies are helping me to integrate, through a theological framework, my experiences as a public bus driver, along with everything else in my life.”
One poignant lesson she has taken away from her coursework in the program is “Context! Context! Context!” Amity was first encouraged to recognize the importance of context when Rev. Dr. Mike Raschko, professor of Christian Anthropology, asked the class to reflect on the question, “What is it to be human?” Her realization gave her the freedom she needed to think about her moment in time, draw on her own experiences, consider the factors that influence her understandings of what it is to be human, and meaningfully articulate her own point of view. She now reads texts with a keen awareness of context, and remains mindful of the unique context of her own experiences.
This has helped her become more confident in articulating her own experience and develop a listening presence. She says: “I am finding that the more confident I am to be myself-the full package of life experiences that I currently embody-the easier it is to be present to the entirety of another’s experience. I am a becoming a better listener.”
As for the future, she emphasizes the importance of discernment, and she encourages others to let themselves be moved by the spirit and respond if they are called. Whether she pursues chaplaincy in a traditional setting, or on the bus, Amity describes herself as being in a continual process of discernment.
She concludes: “Now that I am studying at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, I know that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ MDiv student. We come from different backgrounds, represent a variety of faith traditions, are of different ages and have varied aspirations-a true reflection of the spirit at work!”